Zenimax On TESO’s First-Person Mode, Mudcrab Armies

By Nathan Grayson on March 20th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

I recently ventured to Zenimax Online’s mighty fortress in the fantastical kingdom of Baltimore, and I was very good. I only spent 40 percent of the time incessantly quoting The Wire. When not explaining to random passers-by why you best not miss when you come at the king, I even played some videogames! Specifically, The Elder Scrolls Online, because Zenimax kinda makes that and stuff. I did, however, come away with quite a sizable list of concerns, as this one’s DNA struck me as decidedly more MMO than TES. But a promising-looking first-person mode suggests Zenimax is paying attention to the wishes of the fantasy titan’s truly colossal fanbase, so I decided to air my grievances directly. Click past the break for lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle’s responses to Zenimax’s almost comically abrupt turnaround on first-person, TESO’s ability (or lack thereof) to replicate the moments of AI-driven randomness TES players so love, PvP’s potential for maniacal politicking, the open class system, and – of course, most importantly – mudcrabs. Mudcrabs, mudcrabs, and more mudcrabs.

RPS: Just a few weeks ago, you said that first-person and TESO’s combat simply wouldn’t mesh well. 360 degree attack radii and all that. Why’d you change your mind? Will the implementation of first-person require a combat revamp?

Nick Konkle: Well, I think there’s any number of reasons. I definitely do not feel like it’s at odds with the style of combat that we’ve built. Our third-person game wasn’t necessarily developed for very, very zoomed-out from above. When we built the combat system, we targeted having your camera be close up on the character, character off to the side, but in the world. Immersion was always a key part of it. Yes, first-person is certainly a different perspective than third-person over-the-shoulder, but we’re talking half a meter forward and half a meter left. That changes the perspective somewhat, but not nearly as much as if you were 20 meters zoomed out looking down on your character. That wasn’t our intent in the full game.

We’ve been wanting to do first-person really since the beginning.

The transition isn’t as bumpy as you might think, as far as any changes to our core game systems. It’s been much more focused on ensuring that the things that did change – and you bring up a pretty good one as far as situational awareness goes – are communicated effectively in first-person. That’s where you get into things like hit indicators and enemy indicators when they’re in different directions. That is a really good, classic example of the problem that happens when you go from third to first. But there are others. Each one we’ve handled individually. But the core system, because it was built for being in the world and immersed, didn’t have to change.

RPS: When did you start developing this system? It already looks pretty far along. And if it is, why’d Zenimax pretend like it didn’t exist a few weeks ago?

Nick Konkle: There’s a couple of different answers. As far as how long we’ve been planning on it and wanting to do it, it’s really since the beginning. There’s definitely a class of people who we feel like, for sure, they want to play the game, they want to play an Elder Scrolls game in first-person. I absolutely agree. That is what a lot of people feel like, and are right to feel like, is an essential Elder Scrolls experience.

But the first thing we wanted to do was focus on our core game. For the core game and the core perspective, we picked that third-person over-the-shoulder – zoomed in on the world, but with your character on the screen nonetheless. It was when we felt like we had that locked down [that we began honing first-person]. Okay, we know our core game. It’s working. It’s playing the way we want it to. We have all the mechanics built up. That was the moment where it felt like, okay, now it’s time to start building the first-person and start getting that in the game.

That makes it sound like it was entirely planned the whole time, which isn’t true. We announced the game a while back. It was something a lot of people felt really passionate about. We read the forums. I read the things that say HEY DEVS READ THIS on forums. That’s what we do. It was clear that it was something that was a point of passion for a lot of people. I think that really helped us move the needle – like, this is going to be hard, this is a challenging production problem, but we just have to do it. That was why we did it. I think that happened fairly recently.

RPS: When I was playing in third-person today, there were lots of vision cones for enemy attacks, and high-speed, distance-covering dodge-rolls were crucial. How will that translate into first-person?

Nick Konkle: Those attacks and those core gameplay elements are still in there. We find that the telegraphs themselves still work perfectly well. In fact, you have a nice perspective on the ground that isn’t impeded in any way by your own character. That’s kind of nice. In some places it actually feels better. Motion and moving about in combat is always something that we want our core game to be about. It’s something that’s in Skyrim. It’s something that’s interesting in RPGs. We don’t want just a standard MMO where people are static and exchanging blows until one person dies. Yes, that’s a key part of the system, and in first-person, it is realized in its own way.

RPS: Ultimately, though, I still felt like I was playing an MMO first and an Elder Scrolls game second. Why did you go in a direction that so heavily favors more rigid zones, quests, and things of the like?

Nick Konkle: Certainly meshing those two has always been our main design philosophy, what we strive very hard to do. I think maybe the missing element was first-person, experiencing it in that way. It depends. It’s different for different people. The Elder Scrolls games are so broad. Different people get different things out of them. For some people, what really sells it is the progression. For others it’s the way in which you interact with the world. For others it’s first-person mode. Really, what we’ve been trying to do is, one by one, put those things in our game in such a way that they do make it a cohesive experience. Maybe right now it doesn’t feel that way to you, but maybe it will in the future. We’ll definitely keep pushing that.

RPS: I think another thing was the overall sense of possibility Bethesda’s Radiant-AI-powered worlds can create. A lot of the series’ personality actually – at least, for me – doesn’t come from the lore. It’s all the weird stories AI interactions or even glitches spawn. Or my ability to mess with the world. To steal everything or roll a million cheese wheels down a mountain or whatever.

Nick Konkle: Well, I think there’s a number of things TESO can do that are similar to that, and some that it possibly cannot. Those tend to have to do with making the experience unplayable for someone else. A big example is, why can’t I just go kill this quest giver in the town? Everyone knows you can do that in Skyrim, although a lot of times he’ll just go unconscious and come back up. But everyone knows you can do that in Skyrim because you can reload. You can’t do that in an MMO.

As far as dynamic interactions, there’s a number of places we use that, but I can tell you that in our combat system, that was something we focused heavily on. Let’s not build anything that requires exactly these three guys to play together, and they’d better only appear as a group. Every NPC, every enemy in the world, should be looking at the area around them, seeing who else is available, seeing what the environment is, and trying to take advantage of it. What’s really cool about that is, when you spawn in one scenario, you know what it’s going to do. It’s fixed. But here – oh, crap, something else happened. Another player affected the terrain. I did something unexpected. All of a sudden, you have this battle that was completely unexpected.

RPS: Right. Which is in your combat scenarios. But with other Elder Scrolls games, it’s in all the other incidental things as well Characters going about their daily lives, and occasionally that’ll make something completely weird happen where the resulting scrap doesn’t even involve you. TESO’s NPCs felt more like standard, largely static quest-givers.

Nick Konkle: We have a couple of different types of NPCs, and a couple of different Radiant events that fill that role. For example, we have what we call critters in the game, monsters that aren’t going to fight you. They’re actually aware of whether there’s predators in the environment. They will flee them and son and so forth. Sometimes that goes all the way up to deer. What you might find is that if you run out in Glenumbria and come upon a deer, they’ll scatter, but then they’ll see a wolf, and so they’ll run from that, and the wolf will run them down and kill them. There is a certain amount of that, especially with the critters, creating that living predator-prey relationship.

With our NPCs, there are certain ones, typically the quest givers, that are intended to stay within a specific area and help create a flow for people who want to follow the story in a very specific way. But then there’s what we call… I don’t know if we use the term “radiant NPCs,” but we might say “filler NPCs.” They wander the towns, and they themselves have a story, but it’s not related to a quest. They’ll just go around and then they’ll interact and sometimes they’ll talk with quest givers. There are different numbers of those. If you go in an area like Daggerfall and run around, you might start to see more of those NPCs who are just living there, but aren’t affiliated with a quest, interacting with each other and talking and doing various things.

RPS: I wanted to clarify something I heard during the presentation today: there was a stat cited that was something like, for each alliance’s different portion of questing, it would be about 120 to 150 hours of content?

Nick Konkle: I believe that was the target at one time. Around 140.

RPS: But is that factoring in if you do all the main quests and all the side quests in that area? Or is that if you just mainline it and go straight through, doing if not the bare minimum, then all the main quests and a couple of side quests when you see fit?

PvP is absolutely intended to be political.

Nick Konkle: The answer to that is actually a bit of a tricky one. You can play the game very, very directly. If you really are just trying to get to the end as fast as possible, skipping all the story elements, really moving as quickly as possible, it’s a very different speed than if you actually, say, listen to the story or watch any of the theater that unfolds. You don’t have to. You can just go skip-skip-skip.

What the target – that number, the 120-140… We treat it as what an average player might do. Sometimes they’re going to listen to the story, get heavily invested, care about the characters. Sometimes they’re going to completely explore. Other times they’re going to say, nah, I’m not super interested in this area. I’ll just move over to the next one. They’ll speed through it or skip it entirely. It comes more from, we have a lot of different people playing an area. So it’s kind of an average. I would describe that as an average target, if that makes sense.

RPS: What about on the PvP side? How does the alliance system function there? What sort of benefits do factions that hold multiple keeps in Cyrodil win?

Nick Konkle: I don’t think we’re specifically talking about what they are, but they’re global things that pertain to every character in the game that everyone wants, and not something that’s like, oh, this just gives you more PvP points. It’s an alliance-wide benefit. When your side has it, you’re happy.

RPS: Could you see the results of that system being fairly political? Or is it more going to be like, we fight, we get a benefit, then we lose it and we try to take it back?

Nick Konkle: Oh, no. It’s absolutely intended to be political. That’s part of the reason for having three sides. It’s because it isn’t just, well, who is winning right now? If one side starts to win, then the other sides are like, let’s team up, and then they rush that guy [laughs]. You can absolutely have politics based around that.

There will be periods where everyone can feel like, let’s just go ahead and keep things the way they are right now, because if someone rushes I might get taken out. You might have extended periods like that. This is the way the PvP system in other games work, that we’ve used as our reference and targets. It kind of plays out in that way. It’s something we wanted to bring over to this game.

RPS: I remember, about a year ago, there was talk of an Emperor system related to that. A single player could become Emperor via PvP deeds. Is that still in?

Nick Konkle: Yeah. We’re not discussing details of it, but it is the case that someone can, from a single alliance, if they get to ascendancy… They can attempt to make themselves the Emperor. It would be incredibly difficult to maintain for any significant period of time. They would probably get ganged up by the other alliances. But it is something that is possible and is a part of the game. Specific details will be coming down the line.

RPS: What are the story ramifications of that? I mean, will those players be immortalized in the series’ lore and stuff?

Nick Konkle: It’s funny. In the lore of the time, this is a period of great conflict. What happened was, many pretenders to the throne rose. Out of all of those pretenders came Tiber Septim. He was the one who made it work. He could light the dragonfires. He began the Third Era. We’re in the Second Era, before that happened. So maybe it’ll be possible that one of the players is a pretender, or maybe it’ll be possible that you can work your way up there, and then you’re actually Tiber Septim. That’s the sort of thing that’s going to keep the players intrigued.

RPS: You have an almost entirely open class system that allows anyone to equip nearly any skill set. At that point, what’s the point of a class system at all? Why not just give players the option to begin as blank slates?

Nick Konkle: There’s a few things. The main thing that I really like about it, about what happens in our playtests, is that it gives you a nice little bit of differentiation. It’s very social. It’s three skill lines out of 20-plus that you’re going to end up with. We’re starting with 12, but it keeps growing. You’ll only ever have the three that come from your classes. The way that those start you off, and then ultimately interplay with all the other skills that you and everyone else can get, does make a nice social experience.

One of my favorite experiences in our post-game playtests is when, at the end of the big PvP battle or a dungeon run, everyone sits down and starts post-gaming their builds. Here’s what I did. Here’s what I tried. I did this class and this armor type. Here’s how I used my magic, because I wanted to accomplish this one thing. Mostly I focused on stamina. Something along those lines. I have very rarely heard people feeling like, this is the dominant thing. They say, I’m sure my thing is the best, and then someone finds something that beats it. Then it keeps moving around. It’s both social and it gets people a starting point as far as what makes them unique and trying different builds. It’s also just kind of a cool thing, to be able to say, this is something I can do that’s unique. That’s something we like.

RPS: You mentioned that after the game launches, you’re going to investigate a Thieves guild. I was wondering how that would work. Would you have quests that emphasized the sneaking system and things like that? Do you already have some like that?

Nick Konkle: I will say that I don’t necessarily want to speculate on a system that we’re ultimately going to release post-launch and lock down the details later. But a lot of the ways in which we have built the sneaking system up to this point, with the detection, with the awarenesses there – and similarly with being able to pick up objects in the world – was built with a back end in mind for, hey, we’re going to expand on these in a certain way to allow for this stealth being something that’s a game of its own. That’s something we’re pretty excited to work on and get in there. We do know that people love sneaking and thieving. We do too.

RPS: This is, of course, the most important question. Mudcrabs. How many kinds you gonna have?

Nick Konkle: [laughs] Let’s see if I can count. There’s a number of different species. I associate them with the color. I’m trying to remember… It’s greater than three. Maybe like five, when I imagine them in a line? There’s five different types of mudcrabs. That’s a species. There are larger ones that potentially do stronger things as well. There’s some variances there.

RPS: Do they have more attacks than just the burrowing?

Nick Konkle: That’s only what the base, simple mudcrab does. Yes, they absolutely do more things. Higher-level mudcrabs, you don’t want to mess with those things.

RPS: Do you remember the mudcrab from Morrowind that sold stuff?

Nick Konkle: Yeah, the vendor? Sure.

We may or may not refer to that as the mudcrab army.

RPS: Will there be any appearance from him in the game? He strikes me as an ageless being. It seems possible.

Nick Konkle: It certainly seems like he would have stayed around. That’s the sort of thing that we as developers love to potentially include in the game as different parts. But it’s very much the sort of thing I like players to discover when they go and play the game, like how you become a vampire. We could tell you, but let’s just let you go find out. You can go play the game and find things like that that are fun.

RPS: I heard tell of a mudcrab army.

Nick Konkle: [laughs] Certainly there are scenarios where large numbers of mudcrabs will be summoned. We may or may not refer to that as the mudcrab army.

RPS: What about a mudcrab dungeon? Could you ever do that?

Nick Konkle: We have mudcrab bosses. I’m gonna be honest. And mudcrab-based encounters. But there isn’t anything that is exclusively mudcrabs. We care for that creature. It is truly a great creature in Elder Scrolls lore.

RPS: What about mudcrab mounts?

Nick Konkle: [laughter] The mechanics of that seem really challenging. You could go underground with them…

RPS: Well, I mean, it’d be giant.

Nick Konkle: Yeah, sure. I’m picturing goodness too. I can tell you that we’re not releasing details of the mount system, other than that we’re going to have mounts in our game and they’re more than just cosmetic. They have a role and they do have unique properties.

RPS: Also, cliff racers. Are they in?

Nick Konkle: Yes. There has never been a more divisive monster than the cliff racer. The jump attack. Ugh. Man.

RPS: Are they just going to be following me around someplace? Constantly? Incessantly? Until I break?

Nick Konkle: Yeah, every time they attack, three more spawn [laughs]. Uh, cliff racers are… Well, I’ll tell you what. That’s another one I want to let people discover. We have fun.

RPS: Okay. I’m going to assume the main bad guy is a cliff racer that never stops following you.

Nick Konkle: Yeah, absolutely. Shadow over the ground…

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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106 Comments »

  1. aergistal says:

    Fifi’s back to get you.

  2. bstard says:

    Will I get those mudcrap hats with the special digital pre-order edition or the pre season DLC tickets?

  3. RProxyOnly says:

    “We’ve been wanting to do first-person really since the beginning.”

    Then why wasn’t this done in the first fucking place?… These brain donors just talk a whole lot of shit.

    …and, Nathan….. stop trying to force “mudcrab” as a meme… until this game has shown what it’s capable of, and sticks to an ‘elder scrolls’ direction (as opposed to generi-mmo with an ES skin) it doesn’t deserve any ‘free pass’.. and memes simply serve to distract….

    This game shouldn’t be treated any differently to any other ES game. in so far as news coverage and reviews go…It is it’s previous incarnations that it should be measured against, not any other MMO, and if it doesn’t live up to the ES reputation then it should be slated, regardless of how ‘good’ an ‘mmo’ it is.

    Bearing in mind that I neither like nor play ES games

  4. PatrickSwayze says:

    My entire reaction to what I’ve seen so far of TESO is, to quote Bunk & McNulty:

    “Fuck.”

    “Fuck.”

    “Motherfuck.”

    “Ballfuck.”

    “Fuck Fuck Fuck Fuck Fucker.”

  5. distantlurker says:

    $100,000,000 WoW clone in I AM DISAPPOINT shocker.

    *sigh*

    Next!

    • Thurgret says:

      Except that there hasn’t been any word so far to suggest that it’s anything of the sort. Have you actually read Nathan’s impressions?

    • Tuskin38 says:

      Nothing about this game sounds like a WoW clone, have you even read any of the articles?

    • phuzz says:

      Well, it’s a massively multiplayer game, set in a fantasy setting (and comes from a series of SP games), so it’s closer to WoW than, say, Eve, but as far the spectrum of MMOs goes, they sound like they’re trying to do something a bit different.
      Certainly it’s making me slightly interested, and I don’t really like multiplayer games as a rule.

  6. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    Not sure if there’s excitement about this game at RPS but it sure gets a lot of coverage lately. More positive stuff, please! What are the good games?

    • RobinOttens says:

      It’s getting a lot of coverage (three articles in two days?) because Nathan went to see it. Before yesterday I’d almost forgotten this game even existed, it was barely ever mentioned here.

      And after today, I’ll gladly go back to forgetting it’s existence. Haha!

  7. Kamos says:

    “A big example is, why can’t I just go kill this quest giver in the town? (…) You can’t do that in an MMO”

    Yet another carebear MMO.

    • Sian says:

      It’s simply shocking that the majority of people don’t enjoy being griefed, isn’t it?

      • Vorphalack says:

        I think it’s far more shocking that the development team, making the MMO of a series which has always been focused on wandering the world and finding your own fun, is building a stock standard WoW clone where all the meaningful interaction revolves around quest giving NPCs. Why didn’t they try and make game systems that allow players to kill NPCs without closing down all the content, or create a bounty system so that other players can hunt NPC killers? So many possibilities, so little achieved.

        • naetharu says:

          The trouble with that kind of sandbox game is that it does not seem to really work. The only game of that type that has really done well is Eve and that is build from the ground up to be a very differnt kind of experience.

          TES, for better or worse, is still a classic fantasy game of questing and guilds. Asking for an open sandbox experience sounds well and good but it then depends upon people getting together and making it a fantastic experience…which tends not to be too successful given the nature of the internet and all.

          Let’s wait and see what the game is like. For my part I am happy to give it the benefit of the doubt until I actually play the game. Calling it rubbish and declaring it as a ‘wow clone’ is not really useful until we actually see what is offered up.

          • Brun says:

            It does work, but it’s a difficult sell on a large scale. A lot of people don’t approach video games from the “make your own fun” perspective – they expect to be told what they should be doing, at the very least. Part of that is because most video games do tell you what you should do, and many players have come to expect it of all of their games. Without that sort of instruction, players can end up feeling frustrated, which isn’t exactly what you want to do if you’re after a relatively large audience.

            Also, without an absolutely massive world, leveling by “making your own fun” is going to get tedious, and start to feel like grinding. If you want to level your character in Skyrim, the best way to go about it (besides smithing things all day) is to go crawl random dungeons or look for enemies and encounters in the world. Essentially grinding, it only stays interesting because each dungeon is unique. In an MMO, the number of dungeons and encounters would have to be enormous to keep the game from feeling grindy (with only a small number of dungeons and world encounters people would quickly identify the most efficient ones for leveling). I would go as far as saying it would be exceptionally difficult to do without procedurally generating those dungeons, and with a fixed geography like Tamriel your options for doing that will be limited. I’m sure earlier sandbox MMOs had the same problem, but they benefited from the pre-WoW and pre-EQ MMO culture in which grinding mobs was not only acceptable but was to be expected.

          • Shuck says:

            @Brun: That’s all true, and griefing is also a particular problem with sandbox MMOs. You can’t use in-game punishments to stop players from killing NPCs/breaking game content, because that’s part of “the fun they’re creating for themselves.” It’s all about circumventing whatever safeguards have been put in place, regardless of the consequences to the character (who is ultimately disposable). The griefers then drive away other types of players, making the griefing problem worse until the game collapses.

          • Brun says:

            If doing something causes a great deal of inconvenience to themselves people won’t do it for fun, because it will no longer be fun. As I stated later in the thread a high ressurrection delay flag (applied upon attacking an NPC) would probably discourage most people from griefing NPCs if the risk of death was high (due to guards, etc.), because they’d have 30 seconds of fun and then be stuck with an hour of being able to do literally nothing. If they did manage to escape the guards protecting the NPC, they would be forced to hide in the wilderness, as guards would attack them on sight thus making it impossible for them to enter cities or settlements. You could even spice it up with adding a dynamic bounty system with lucrative rewards, so that griefers would know that other players would be hunting them down.

            That’s a rather extreme example but depending on how the death mechanics work in the game it might prove effective. Remember, if there’s anything that players of online games – MMOs and (curiously) MOBAs in particular – value highly, it’s their time. It’s why LoL’s “leaver” deterrents work so well – even if you leave a game, your time is still wasted, so most people don’t do it, even though it was absolutely rampant in the original DotA. By designing your countermeasures to waste a lot of time, you will deter all but the most malicious of griefers.

          • Shuck says:

            @Brun: Any sort of penalties that might stop a regular player from doing something don’t impact griefers. The problem is, for a dedicated griefer, the characters themselves are completely disposable. They don’t care if the character gets killed, they aren’t bothered by negative penalties – they’ll log out or even create a new character if they have to. The harsher the penalties for griefers, the more they’ll impact regular players, too. (And then that becomes another form of griefing.)

          • Brun says:

            How would penalties against people that attack friendly NPCs hurt regular players? The whole point is to enforce this idea that attacking friendly NPCs is something you should actively avoid doing. Obviously things would have to be tweaked so that it was difficult to do accidentally.

            As for griefers creating disposable characters, that’s a good point, but I think that could be addressed as well. Best solution would probably be to make the Purgatory Flag AND guard hostility account-wide but character-specific, i.e. so they couldn’t create a disposable alt to “sacrifice” to remove the flag from their main. You could also just lock out new character creation for any account with a character that has an active Purgatory Flag. The overall goal would be to make sure that any griefers have to sit, logged in, doing nothing for a non-trivial amount of time before they could use it again.

            The only problem that doesn’t address is groups of players banding together to avoid death (i.e. groups big enough to kill guards). That’s harder to deal with but you could just tune guards to be nearly invincible killing machines, far beyond the abilities of the maximum group size of max-level players. I’m talking hilarious ragdoll catapults.

          • Shuck says:

            @Brun: Griefers convince ignorant newbies to attack NPCs, or kite NPCs into battles where they’ll be hit by stray attacks and flag other characters, etc.
            If there’s real inconvenience caused to other people by a mechanic such as killing NPCs, and you allow players to do so, then they’ll absolutely do it, even if it means completely burning their account. If you allow players to do something negative, they will – if players have to play their character for a few hours while flagged, they’ll easily do that, as someone will quickly figure out where safe spots are on the map where a character can be parked unattended, etc. If you allow players to permanently kill NPCs, the game would be depopulated within the first week, even if you completely banned players for doing so.

            A middle of the road approach (where killing quest NPCs is hard and has consequences, and they re-spawn anyways) is exactly what WoW does, which is precisely what commenters are proposing alternatives to. The problem is, WoW’s mechanics are so common because many of them are fairly optimal, not because designers are lazy.

          • Kamos says:

            Oh, come on. They are not even trying. If griefing is something that happens, include it in your game. Make it part of the design. Give players the tools needed to combat it themselves. Don’t just default to the “you’re playing it wrong, you’re not suppoesed to do that” solution.

            it is not at all shocking that most people don’t want griefing in their games. It is not even surprising that designers make the most boring choices. It is just that. BORING.

            Next WoW clone, please.

          • heldelance says:

            @Kamos: Out of sheer curiosity, how would you design it so that killing questgivers and griefing in general, is woven into the game?

            I can honestly see where your idea has merit in an open game like Minecraft where there aren’t any questgivers. The only problem is for the MMOs that rely on quest chains, I can’t see any feasible method to keep them working other than just spawning a new person with the same quests (impossible if the quest giver is part of the quest itself).

          • Brun says:

            Give players the tools needed to combat it themselves.

            Implying that players would actually use those tools.

            It’s easy to say “Just empower the players to handle it!” without getting any more detailed than that. But a feature that allows me to engage in “ABSOLUTELY RIVETING NPC GUARD DUTY/BABYSITTING” (I can see the back-of-the-box feature list now) doesn’t sound particularly fun to me. This isn’t Fantasy Police Simulator 2013. I know it sounds fun to catch the dastardly criminal scum yourself (and for the first few times, it is!), but after the 300th griefer kills the same NPC in the same town for the 300th time it will just be annoying.

            Just as an example of why it wouldn’t work, the “empower the players!” solution starts to fail when much of the population has hit max level and just doesn’t give a shit about low to mid level quest zone NPCs anymore. Seriously. It would be a particular problem in upper-mid-level zones since after the population has stabilized post-EQ MMOs tend to be top and bottom heavy in level population. To pull people away from their raids or PvP or whatever other endgame content there is, defending NPCs / hunting griefers would literally have to be one of the most profitable and lucrative activities in the game, and if you’re trying to go for a “lore-correct”, “properly immersive” game you can’t have the the equivalent of the city guard pulling down epics for taking down common miscreants.

          • Kamos says:

            What *I* would do? It hardly matters. It is obvious they have chosen their boring MMO design because it is the most profitable one. But I’d have:

            1) perma death – no such thing as people too busy with “end game”, or strong enough to be bored.
            2) Dynamic quests spawned by the player’s actions – no such thing as predefined quests and quest givers
            3) Game mechanics that give players incentive to work together – i.e., equipment must be created and researched in cities controlled by real people, if you want to be a PK asshat you’ll have a hard time
            4) NPCs to do menial tasks such as: guarding, gathering, crafting. Players can employ NPCs and become tycoons, or own cities through force.

            Those are just a few to address some of the stuff you’ve mentioned.

    • Bhazor says:

      … I’d be game for that.

      An MMO with combat mechanics removed in favour of picnics, tea parties and sexual exploration.

    • Phantoon says:

      Can’t do that in an MMO? Safe is the word here, on everything. I’d be a lot more interested if the radiant AI system was advanced enough that you could get away with that. I doubt they’ll take a single risk with this game.

  8. AlManiak says:

    New hip developer word of the day: Core game

    The core game was always meant to be the core of the game, so we made the core game, the core of the game so to speak, the core element of our game. Also core game.

    I should get into game PR

    • RobinOttens says:

      Though with modern game projects and especially MMOs being so huge, it is a good idea as a developer to have a central idea of what your game is supposed to be, some basic rules of what is and isn’t part of your game design, so you can prioritize the important bits of the product you’re trying to make. Something you can use as a guide for the promises you’re gonna make when doing PR. The ‘core game’ if you will.

      Sorry, I don’t know if my comment is meant as sarcastic, snarky or informative.

    • Sakkura says:

      Cor game blimey!

  9. rustybroomhandle says:

    I usually try my best not to comment with childishly dismissive comments that add little to the conversation, but in this case:

    Fuck this shit!

    That is all.

  10. Moraven says:

    Give us co op Skyrim where we can host our own server shards and can make permanent changes. /sadface

    • Cinek says:

      Yep. This would be quite close to my dreamed “TES Online”.
      Sadly: They prefer to create yet another generic MMO.
      Pathetic.

      • Sparkasaurusmex says:

        Basically TES with Minecraft LAN would be awesome

      • Burning Man says:

        This is actually why they never made Skyrim co-op…. they recognized an opportunity to monetize it and refused to give it to fans for free in the manner that would work best.

        Instead we get this. These MMOs must make quite a bit of money even when they fail horribly for every publisher and his mother to be attempting to make one.

      • Brun says:

        No thanks. I’m all for playing with friends but at its core TES has been a single-player experience and I think that rebalancing it for co-op play would take away from that.

    • Screwie says:

      An Elder Scrolls game with 2-4 player co-op is all I want. Nothing like this.

    • Consumatopia says:

      Holy crap, that is a great idea.

      Some day someone will make that. Not necessarily Skyrim, but some co-op sandbox RPG. A blend between Skyrim and Dragon Quest IX?

      All the other devs will stand around trying to figure out how that dev suddenly made all of the money.

      HEY DEVS READ WHAT MORAVEN SAID

  11. shamblemonkee says:

    with regard to: “A big example is, why can’t I just go kill this quest giver in the town? (…) You can’t do that in an MMO”

    I think that alone shows how conservative they have been. TES even offers the framework to deal exactly this:

    Player kills NPC in sight of others = increase in bounty.

    then implement different thresholds of bounty;

    1. dark brotherhood hitsquad / bounty system?
    2. block access to that town via guards
    3. wanted posters in the location it happened if in town
    4. marked as untrustworthy; worse prices from traders

    you can then even tie that in with systems like escaping a bounty for a set time initiates an invite from the DB. murdering or stealing could drive criminal reknown and unlock thieves guild too.

    really there are so many more interesting ways they could be doing all of this to actually make it an MMO rather than a game that has other people in it.

    • GameCat says:

      5. Players kills all NPCs in a few hours after game launch.
      6. Quests becomes unplayable.
      7. Bethesda devs are adding “ressurect a NPC!” microtransation item.
      8. Players from around the world are complaining about it.
      9. But they are buying these items anyway.
      10. ???
      11. Profit! (for Bethesda)

      • shamblemonkee says:

        yeah but even then, if there are npc’s totally core to the experience you just put in countermeasures, not lop it all off entirely.

        no weapons drawn in town or you get flagged to everyone, npcs are very high level, that sort of thing. that provides safeguards but still presents opportunity.

        • Shuck says:

          Countermeasures or no, if you provide a means for players to break the game in an MMO, they immediately will, and then the game’s broken for everyone. The harder you make it for players to break the game, the longer the delay until they do so, that’s all. So weeks (or days) instead of hours. Doesn’t really fix the fundamental problem.
          I’ve worked on MMOs and tried to come up with mechanics that would allow players to do things like that but not break the game. Problem is, ultimately they required a shit-ton of extra work but were functionally was so similar to the common MMO mechanics (such as not allowing players to kill NPCs in the first place) that it wasn’t worth the time, money and headache to implement them. So I’m sympathetic with their using traditional MMO mechanics – those mechanics are common for some very good reasons.

        • Bhazor says:

          “NPCs are very high level”

          Clearly you’ve never played a P&P RPG. Referring to a character as “unbeatable” is the equivalent of writing “DO NOT PRESS” on the on switch of your electric chair. The DM knows the player is going to kill their whole party going for it, the player knows they’re about to kill their entire party, everyone knows the entire campaign is fucked as soon as the DM says “No, you can’t fight this guy”

          There is not a single game of P&P Planescape that doesn’t end with “And the Lady without even glancing towards you walks away letting her shadow fall on you. You dumbass.”

      • RobinOttens says:

        And do you really need the traditional badly written quests when you have dynamic bounty hunting and faction systems that could spawn procedural content and missions involving other players and PvP. Most of the downsides of making NPCs killable are easily solved by having them respawn or replaced and teaching players not to just be blindly dependant on the pre-written quest content for their enjoyment.

        • Shuck says:

          Yeah, you really do. Quests make it more player-friendly, which is what you need to draw in enough of an audience to pay for Elder Scrolls-level production costs.

    • Oozo says:

      But it is written in THE HOLY BOOK OF LAZY-MMO DESIGN that thou shall not kill an NPC! It’s the way of our forefathers! Be gone with your foul innovation, heathen!

    • Snargelfargen says:

      Honestly it’s amazing how often WoW npcs and quest areas have been wiped out by high level pvp’ers. You have no idea what lengths griefers will go to. Bounties and wanted posters wouldn’t do a thing.

      One could also argue that players could band together to stop these outlaws, but it rarely works. Griefers are the most interested in pushing the envelope of the game’s possibilities and as such are organized, adept at the game’s mechanics and generally try to just do things better. They only “lose” once they decide to call it a night and log off. So out of all the differences from TES, making quest-givers invincible (or at least stuck on a very short respawn timer) is an understandable compromise.

      • The Random One says:

        The thing is, griefers only do what they do because they want to disrupt the game. If you set up the game in such a way that it takes killing an NPC in stride, griefers won’t have any interest in doing that because it won’t be disruptive.

  12. RProxyOnly says:

    “TESO’s NPCs felt more like standard, largely static quest-givers.”

    LMFAO.. yeah, right.. like the real ES games are any different.. ES has ALWAYS been a big dead world with a bunch of dead things to do… it’s aimed at the lowest common denominator, morons who don’t necessarily need to know how to read or count, that’s the only reason for such a large uptake.. the people who play ES games are as dumb as the games themselves.

  13. Victuz says:

    Yeah yeah bad boring mmo and stuff. Not important.

    What I have to know is am I the only person who keeps reading the title as “Zenimax On TESCO’s First-Person Mode, Mudcrab Armies”? Why is TESCO involved!? And why do they have mudcrab armies?!!!

    • distantlurker says:

      Every little kelps.

    • Archonsod says:

      Just as long as there’s no seahorse in the mudcrab.

    • slerbal says:

      I totally misread it as Tesco too. Was actually a little disappointed to see it was TESO :(

      :D

    • solidsquid says:

      At first we saw the price wars as being an extension of capitalism, large companies using pricing structures to undermine each other while trying to keep themselves profitable. There was some protest at the effect this was having on smaller, independent shops, but people generally accepted this as a fair trade off for the convenience and lower prices.

      The prices could only drop so much though, and the supermarkets moved from fighting the war through politics and economics to outright hostilities. Mascots had to be paid danger money due to the assassinations, and clerks were given small arms as part of their standard uniforms. It died down after a while though, settling into a cold war mentality where none of the supermarkets wanted to make a move in case one of the others did.

      Then the mudcrabs came, and everything we thought we knew was swept away before their chitinous might

  14. Snargelfargen says:

    Assuming devs really do read these things:

    I want to explore in an open world full of interesting landmarks.
    I want to be able to venture into places that aren’t signposted, high level, exciting and remote places.
    I want to see someone else 2 hills away and feel a thrill of terror, uncertain if they are friend or foe.
    I want open-world pvp.

  15. ralph_plauren says:

    I quite like this interview, at least the Zenimax designers seem to have played Morrowind et al.

  16. Heliocentric says:

    The main thread of the plot is the politics of cliff racer vs mudcrabs, essentially its a reflection of the conflicts between Israel and Palestine… Not sure which is which.

  17. neonordnance says:

    “So maybe it’ll be possible that one of the players is a pretender, or maybe it’ll be possible that you can work your way up there, and then you’re actually Tiber Septim.”

    HEY DEVS READ THIS:
    you’re really thinking about letting players be Tiber Septim? as in, the most important man in skyrim’s lore? are you fracking kidding me?!

    HEY DEVS READ THE LORE

    • Snargelfargen says:

      That’s perfectly in line with Morrowind where the player was (maybe, depending on interpretation) the Nerevarine. Or the Dragonborn.

      • tyren says:

        Or Oblivion where you were… uh….

        some guy that helped the Emperor’s son…..

        Yeah, I got nothing.

        But seriously, that Tiber Septim thing, no way in hell that’s gonna happen. The game’s set decades before he was even alive.

        • Brun says:

          Oblivion was sort of unusual in that regard, but I feel like the only reason the Player Character ISN’T the emperor’s son is because of the Sean Bean rule.

          • tyren says:

            To be fair, that never actually bothered me personally and it’s not like they could tell the story they wanted to tell if you WERE the emperor’s son (yeah, have fun dying at the end of the game!), but I understand why people gripe about it.

        • Snargelfargen says:

          In Oblivion, you are in Patrick Stewart’s dreams :3

          uh

          yeah

    • Burning Man says:

      It’s like SWTOR selling Revan’s armor in their cartel packs and seeing a dozen Revans running around the Auction House at all times -_-

      Some people just see important characters as paths to more money.

    • Harlander says:

      Not everyone is Tiber Septim.

      It just turns out that the one who got to be Emperor was Tiber Septim all along…

  18. distantlurker says:

    RPS – bringing you drunk and angry posters released from prison as recently as *this morning*, since 1873.

  19. Goodtwist says:

    If I assume that TES Online is sadly going to fail does that mean that the successful completion of Fallout 4 and FO New Vegas 2 is at peril?

    Fear mine great it is.

    • tyren says:

      I doubt it. Bethesda is fairly successful as a publisher too, it’s not like their only income is from the relatively few games they develop themselves.

  20. Goodtwist says:

    Don’t you diss me Bmore! I did the The-Wire-tour with a rented car and it was great. Had a pit beef sandwich at Chaps Pit Beef.

  21. sinister agent says:

    There’s a simple formula that hints at how this will turn out, even before you consider the MMO aspect:

    Bethesda game – mods = ~10 hours before catastrophic disillusionment.

    I’m not optimistic, to be honest. I really don’t care if there are mudcrabs.

  22. Eukatheude says:

    GIANT ENEMY CRAB

    (seriously, where did you take that screenshot?)

  23. spongthe1st says:

    Why they couldn’t have poured all this effort into TES VI Tamriel with the whole world rather than one region I will never know.

  24. Strangerator says:

    On killing NPCs

    This is a bad idea in MMOs. MMOs are notoriously poor at providing equivalent punishments to fit the crimes. That’s why people in MMOs always act like assholes. Immortality makes people into horrible monsters, and provides them the capability to commit evil acts with impunity. “Griefing” in this type of system is inevitable. I think of MMOs as a huge beach populated with people making sand castles, and about 100 jackasses who try to find ways to destroy said sandcastles knowing there is no meaningful consequence.

    So you randomly kill an NPC in broad daylight… what should happen? You’d be permanently wanted for murder in that town, and any time you showed your face the town guards would kill you. But alas, you are an immortal, so when they kill you nothing happens.

    I think a robust PVP flagging system could help here. Killing an NPC might set your death flag to “permanent” for a number of logged-in game hours, and also add a half hour log-out delay for your avatar (you can log out, but the avatar is still in-game). Nearby guards to the crime scene would be able to give you the names of the offending players. Other players could then set their death flags to “permanent” if they wanted to take out the offending player permanently, at the risk of their own life. Obviously you’d need a substantial timer on how often you can change your death flag voluntarily. Additionally, it would take time to change from one flag to another.

    PVP flags:
    Permanent – see above

    Open – Can attack or be attacked by other players with this flag or higher. People with the “permanent” flag can fight with these players in addition to other open sparring players. Someone with a “permanent” flag won’t be killed by someone else who is marked “open.” However, “open” players can weaken those flagged “permanent” so that another player set to permanent/NPC guard can finish the job.

    Closed sparring – Duels must be mutually agreed upon beforehand, and the duel ends with the loser having 1 hitpoint (or passing out) instead of dying.

    No PVP – People won’t be able to request duels with you or attack you and vice versa.

    • Brun says:

      Instead of a permadeath flag (which most people won’t like), I would suggest a “delayed resurrection” flag – a Purgatory Flag, if you will. Upon killing an NPC, you’re hit with a flag that increases the time before you can resurrect after death by a non-trivial amount of logged-in time (several hours).

      You’d still need to make NPCs respawn after a short period, as truly malicious people will kill them anyway, but that would likely deter most of the “I’m just experimenting” style of griefing.

      EDIT: I’m not really sure how the death mechanics in TESO work, but you could also provide players with the ability to revive slain NPCs themselves, or employ town healer NPCs to do the same automatically after a short period of time.

    • solidsquid says:

      Could ban people from using any of the facilities in a town if they have an outstanding warrant for their arrest, with the punishment for entering the town being attack from high level guards and the risk of their weapons being confiscated

      Actually, having rogues in the employ of the city and able to steal their equipment *before* the guards got involved would probably negate any advantage they had pretty quickly

  25. Bo Steed says:

    The very worst thing to admit: “I read thing that say HEY DEVS READ THIS”. I would not want to visit their forums right about now.

  26. Continuity says:

    TL;DR anyone?

  27. tyren says:

    Honestly I’ve never liked the Elder Scrolls’ “you become LEADER OF THE GUILD at the end of the guild questline” gimmick because it’s always felt…. well, gimmicky. You don’t feel like much of a leader.

  28. Jimbo says:

    Why would anybody ever wanna leave Baltimore?

  29. Jimbo says:

    I ain’t leaving til my index finger bleeds.

  30. crinkles esq. says:

    I would rather have a smaller world where your character has the ability to change a great deal of things, than a large world filled with Disneyland set-pieces and animatronic NPCs. Notice how the Zenimax guy, when asked about changing the world, went straight for the strawman argument about killing quest-givers. There’s a million other things about a gameworld that could be altered, which would make for a more living world and not affect player’s bloody quests.

  31. frey says:

    I don’t get how ‘hey faction A is winning, let’s team up faction B and C to zerg them !’ (permut the letter every now and then) is a political pvp decision.

    Why would they go on a faction based mmo, it could be so much freedom to just have guilds/clan/alliance of people fighting eachothers

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